a term, popularized in the 1900’s, referring to members of the intelligentsia of no particular class who were hired to serve in zemstvo (local self-government) institutions as agronomists, statisticians, technicians, doctors, veterinarians, teachers, and insurance agents.
The “third element” was distinguished from the “first element, ” which was composed of officials appointed to zemstvo organizations by the government, and from the “second element, ” which was made up of members elected to the zemstvo assemblies. Numbering between 65,000 and 70,000 people in 34 provinces in the late 19th century, the third element included a considerable number of bourgeois liberals, Narodniks (Populists), and even Social Democrats.
The third element was largely responsible for the far-reaching successes of the zemstvo institutions, especially in the fields of medicine, sanitation, and education. The tsarist administration and the conservative dvoriane-zemtsy (noblemen who were members of zemstvo organizations) opposed the strengthening of the role of the third element.